Blasted by Adversity

Excerpted from Blasted by Adversity: the Making of a Wounded Warrior, which chronicles Army SSG Luke Murphy’s two tours with the 101st Airborne Division, his recovery from an IED blast that took his leg, and his advocacy for wounded service members.

SSG Luke Murphy

April 24, 2006, the anniversary of Troy Jenkins’s death, three years earlier. Since he was blown up, that day had been bad for me. I didn’t want to be around people, I drank too much. I didn’t really know how to deal with it. I couldn’t talk to anybody about it because none of my buddies had been there. And the guys who were there were wounded and had moved on.

This day was shaping up to be just as bad. Our assignment was to guard FBI and CIA agents while they tried to identify mass graves as evidence against Saddam Hussein. Saddam didn’t like the Shiites, and Sadr City was Shiite central. He had murdered many and piled them in mass graves, so we were in a dump digging through trash trying to find bodies as little kids ran up and threw bricks at us. This was not a typical infantry mission, and I had a bad feeling about it, but you don’t ask questions.

Later that evening, back at the base, we were told we needed to go back into the city and recover a truck that had broken down. “Hey, sir, this is not us,” I told the lieutenant. “Please send somebody else.”

“Sergeant,” he said, “this is something we’ve got to do.”

“Lieutenant, would you just sit down for a second?” I finally told it to him straight, explained to him the meaning of the day, how Troy had died three years earlier. I told him how it affected me, and he listened, then said, “We’ve got to go anyway.” That was it. I resigned myself. Okay, we’re going.

It was close to midnight by the time we recovered the truck, but after working twenty-three hours straight without sleep. Our convoy was on the way out of the city on a road called Route Predator. That’s when I saw the flash.

After the blast and my realization that I’d lost at least one leg, I saw my driver, Shane Irwin, trying to put the vehicle in park because the brakes weren’t working. The round that went through me had lodged in the transmission. Military Humvees are really wide, not like the civilian ones. There’s probably six feet from the driver to passenger side, plus there’s all kinds of gear in between. So even though I was screaming, “Crash the truck! Crash the truck!” Irwin couldn’t hear me. A fire blazed behind our seats, and we couldn’t breathe. I saw him open the door; he wanted to jump. I realized, If this guy jumps, we are done. Then Irwin looked around in the vehicle and shut the door; he chose to stay in the fire. I remember thinking, Thank you, Irwin. Thank you. I can’t imagine what courage it took to stay in a fire and burn up rather than leave his men. When Irwin did finally crash into the wall, the force of the wreck almost knocked me out. I tried opening the door, but the blast had buckled it, and it was also blocked by the wall. I tried shouldering it and managed to knock it off the hinges. It’s hard to shove against a door when you don’t have legs to push with. When it fell open, I rolled out on my face and crawled what felt like a mile, though it was probably only nine feet. I had lost a lot of blood, my right leg was gone, and my left leg was blown in half, hanging by skin. Irwin was the first one to get to me, and he said he was getting help. I heard the medic, Ian Gallegos, moving from guy to guy, giving directions. When he got to me, he knelt and took off his huge backpack, filled with medical equipment. That told me triage had started; I was pretty sure I was the worst hit.

“How you doing, Murph?” Gallegos asked.

“I’m fine,” I responded.

“Do you need morphine?”


“Good, he said, “because I wasn’t going to give it to you anyway.” He kind of laughed.

Gallegos was cool and didn’t show any sign of stress. You can’t teach that. Maybe they try in medic training, but putting it into practice is entirely different. One minute Staff Sergeant Murphy is walking and talking and fine. The next minute, he’s lying there smudged in black with just his femur hanging out from one leg, and mangled with bones from the other. The air smelled of blood and burned meat, and gunpowder and sulfur from the bomb. We were not sure the threat had subsided. Some of the young soldiers were freaking out, but the leaders were doing great, their responses flawless. And here was the medic cracking jokes.

There was no time for IVs, just a tourniquet to stop the blood, a quick check to make sure I’m breathing, and get me back to the trauma docs. As we drove onto the base, I saw the medevac coming down, but our vehicle turned the opposite direction. I thought, Guys, there’s my bird. Why are we going that way? My mind wasn’t one hundred percent sharp. I knew my life was on the line, that golden hour, and I knew I wanted to get on that flight.

They took us to an area I’d never been. I never expected to see every doc in the whole battalion in that tent. Doc Tenario, who had worked on Troy Jenkins, was working on me. They were checking tourniquets, getting IVs started, getting our paperwork together. We ended up being the worst our company would see the whole deployment.

A lot could still go wrong, and it almost did. They got us to the bird, and since I was the worst injured, they put me on last. The medevac Black Hawk choppers are painted green with a red cross on the side, and they’re not set up for carrying troops, only stretchers. Besides the pilot, there’s a crew chief who also serves as the in-flight medic and the gunner. With the long cable attached to the headset, he could barely get around and check on the patients being transported. It took him a minute or two to get all of us strapped down. In case the pilot had to do some evasive maneuvers, to dodge an RPG gunfire, they didn’t want us slamming into a wall.

The gunner put the oxygen mask on me but didn’t turn on the air. I lay there doing the fish face, sucking plastic. With my arms were strapped down, I couldn’t do anything, and the choppers are so loud, he’d never hear me anyway. As I tried to breath, all I could think was, You bastard, turn on the air! The chopper lifted off, and I knew I was going to pass out soon. He finally looked back at me, and his eyes lit up when he realized his error. He started the oxygen, and I was too weak to admonish him. I had nearly died, for the second time that night.

SSG Luke Murphy and his dog, Bella

 Blasted by Adversity: The Making of a Wounded Warrior is currently available on Amazon. You can read more about the author on his website.



Second National Military Experience & the Arts Symposium: Welcome Packet

mea-2Information about workshops, events, and special offerings remains available under the “Symposium” tab on the MEA website. However, and for your convenience, we have embedded a copy of the welcome packet that each registrant will receive after arriving at the event below.

The MEA2 Welcome Packet is also downloadable as a PDF here.

This packet contains the most up-to-date information about the event in a condensed form.

As always, you may contact your symposium director, Jason Poudrier, at with any questions or concerns.

Safe travels. We look forward to seeing you in Lawton May 14-17.

Spotlight: Seth Kastle

by Joseph Stanfill

When news of Why Is Dad So Mad? by Seth Kastle first broke on social media and NBC news I was immediately enamored by the premise. A father of two little girls who is also a combat veteran had written a children’s book.  This is no ordinary children’s book, mind you, this is a book which attempts to explain Seth’s post-traumatic stress disorder to his daughters. I turned to my wife after watching the news report on Seth and said, “This is what we need.” In researching the topic of PTSD for the past five years, I had not come across such a basic yet intriguing concept. How could one possibly take something so complex and heartfelt and translate it for an innocent child? How could a combat veteran, a former drill sergeant, and a company first sergeant put things into perspective for children?  Dr. Seuss had explained numerous ideas to children through his stories, and Mr. Rodgers educated three generations of Americans on kindness, courtesy, and respect via his television show. Never has an author taken on the task of expressing such an intricate issue as PTSD to children. Until now.


The book expresses the often hard to grasp ins and outs of PTSD, yet delivers it in a way that children can understand. My copy came in the mail just two days after watching the NBC feature. My wife and I read through it, and read it to my three year old son that same night before bed. He had that look of understanding on his face that kids get when they see something clearly for the first time. I knew he didn’t have a full grasp of what was going on with me, but by reading the book with him started a very difficult dialogue to have with a child.  Thanks to the book, that dialogue became easier to start

When asked about his inspiration for the book Seth doesn’t mince words.

“Well, personally it’s something that I’m not proud of. It’s the thing I hate about most about myself. So I wanted to be able to explain this to my kids. So there’s this cathartic process of getting this out there and paying things forward. You’ve talked about some of the darker days that you had, you know you had help from people, and I did also. I wish I could say that I’m a self-made man and I did this on my own, but that would be a complete lie. There’s a lot that goes along with this. If I could help others have these conversations, that’s what I would like.  Maybe that’s a driving factor. Things like initiating social change is obviously an issue. If you look at the way this book has taken off, I think it speaks to the tremendous need out there. There are so many people, so many families that are impacted by PTSD. Having the ability to make that impact, hopefully helping families have these conversations and helping people understand, is a pretty big driving force for me also. My process for this was, I had had a really bad day at work, and this had been in my head a long time. I came home and sat down at my kitchen table and I wrote this in about twenty minutes. It sat there for a long time. I have a good friend who lit a fire under me to make this happen.”

Writing can be therapeutic for anyone who has suffered a trauma. While not directly dealing with Seth’s diagnosis, the writing and success has been therapeutic for him.

“If anything, I would say the therapeutic part has been the feedback I’ve received from people. It’s been extremely humbling. People are saying things like, ‘This has helped me reconnect with my kids, or ‘It’s made such a difference in my life.’ That piece has been more therapeutic than anything.”

After separating from the military, many veterans still have the drive to serve others in some capacity. As Seth says:

“I know it isn’t going to last forever. I’m trying to do as much as I can right now with the spotlight I seem to have. I was gifted 1,000 copies of the book from Amazon, and I am going to try to send them directly to the OIF/OEF counselors at every major metropolitan VA hospital. This book is geared toward our generation.”

final-book-just-cover365x361Seth is planning a follow-up book for female veterans. When asked about the inspiration for that project he said:

“Well, I suppose it’s because my wife is a combat veteran also. She has her baggage too. When I had the idea for the first one, I knew I could do a second, that there would be a large need for it. She’s going to coauthor the book with me, and it took a long time to get her to do that. You’ve got to think about how much you are putting yourself out there when you are doing something like this. That was tough. Without question the hardest part of all of this, it’s just like, man I’m putting all of this out there you know.  –Seth has PTSD, I mean – that’s hard. My wife isn’t as comfortable with stuff like that, and I finally got her to come around.  I related to her that this would mean more to women if it came from a woman. Looking back on my research, there are books out there, but everything is geared toward men. So I realized we have had a decade of war that has been fought in an asymmetrical fashion…There are these blurred lines of women in combat, and there is nothing out there for them.”

Is there any message you want to send to our readers?

“Yeah, I would encourage people to go get help. My health is better because I swallowed my pride and got help. I don’t know where I would be today if I didn’t. Taking the steps to keep my family together was the best decision I ever made. If this is something you might need, get help. I would also encourage veterans to do their homework on burn pit exposure, chemical weapons exposure, and mefloquine toxicity. These are all huge things that are going to have adverse effects on our generation of veterans.”

Not everyone who puts their story down on paper will be able to publish a book. Not everyone who relates their feelings through prose will gain an audience or impact people the way that Seth’s book has done and will continue to do. What you could gain from beginning to express yourself through writing or art is a better understanding of you, and you just might offer a glimpse of the military experience to those who haven’t lived it. That is the beginnings of changing the narrative, and engaging in personal growth from trauma.

Why Is Dad So Mad? can be ordered through Amazon.


Spotlight: Albert Gray Eagle

Oklahoma Flutist and Vietnam Veteran, Albert Gray Eagle, Reflects on Art, Family History of Decorated Military Service & Post-Traumatic Stress

by Robin Brooks

There’s something about Albert Gray Eagle when you first meet him that is extraordinarily powerful, yet disarmingly subtle, sensitive, and silent. It is the quiet kind of confidence and strength that undoubtedly comes from years of experience connecting with other human beings on a deep, soulful level. As an obvious artist, one who is spiritually connected, Gray Eagle’s profound talents resonate with everyone he encounters.

“I have to reach way down into the depths of my soul…realize that there is something out there far greater than myself. It’s in every living thing that’s on this earth,” Gray Eagle said.  “We have two sets of eyes: one to see with – to see things physically – and then one to see things around you in a different manner…someone who is hurting, someone you can talk to. I’ve been gifted to be able to talk to people one-on-one…about what’s bothering them,” said Gray Eagle. “You can spot a veteran a mile away. You look into his eyes…you know where he’s been.”

Gray Eagle, a globally known teaching artist affiliated with the Oklahoma Arts Council, is a featured musical performer and workshop instructor at the upcoming Military Experience & the Arts National Symposium, scheduled for May 14-17 on the campus of Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. Gray Eagle will perform music, heavily tinged with patriotic themes and Native American storytelling roots, as well as provide instruction to military veterans and families in the traditional art of flute-making, utilizing authentic materials such as cane, reed, and clay. A Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Army, Gray Eagle is acutely aware of how the historical military experience and environment during the 1970s impacted Native American soldiers from a distinctly cultural perspective.AGE1

“As an American Indian, it was pretty rough. There were two or three of us in the entire brigade,” said Gray Eagle. “We were called up in front of everyone by a major general and, of course, he went through the spiel: ‘As members of separate nations, the United States Government would like to thank you for your service.’

The first comment I remember was from a staff sergeant in Kentucky who told me that I ‘should feel privileged that I was even allowed to serve after what the Indians had done to this country years ago!’ When they tell you something like that your self-worth goes down a lot, no matter how hard you try to be a better person. You always got this ethnic thing:  ‘chief this, chief that.’

“During that time, American Indians were more decorated than any other culture. Yet, they were probably treated the worst,” Gray Eagle said. “It was just stuff people didn’t know…stereotypes…that’s what happens when you get people together. I lived with these guys coming straight off the field. I was a small, five-foot, nine-inch, 135 pound kid, who I guess from behind, looked Vietnamese. I was attacked…choked…they just went crazy, you know? I was seventeen years old,” said Gray Eagle.

As part of the MEA symposium’s focus on diversity and the arts, Gray Eagle will open a lunch-time film screening, courtesy of Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) and the Oklahoma Humanities Council, titled “Native Oklahoma: Native Vietnam Veterans.” A film panel discussion, including veterans profiled in the documentary, will take place immediately following the screening.

1“My family is all veterans. I had a great uncle that got three Bronze Stars during World War II (a Bronze Star with arrowhead cluster), and a Purple Heart. Of course, his PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) was so bad he spent most of his life drunk, and had car accidents that I think were probably attempted suicides, you know? But he survived then, and he never talked about it until right before he died. He was eighty-four or eighty-five years old when he died,” Gray Eagle said. “My grandfather on my mom’s side served. He had a Bronze Star…and my uncles. They were all decorated. There was a lot of service.”

Gray Eagle compares his own difficulties reintegrating into society after coming home from Vietnam with those of his elder family members. “My grandfather…he didn’t know how to communicate with anybody, as I didn’t, when I got out of the military. He got jobs where he would herd sheep up in the mountains by himself. So, all he had was a few dogs and a horse, and he stayed in a…a small camper trailer for months at a time,” Gray Eagle said.

“When I went to work, I was an office manager at this farmer’s cooperative, but I had an office in the back corner where I didn’t have to deal with crowds of people,” he said. “When I was going to get a promotion, to the manager of the whole place, I had to go talk to a board of directors, and I didn’t care for that. So, the only job that I could find where I could be alone was driving a truck. I had my own little space, minimal dealing with people. It was an ideal job for my situation. It was basically the same as my uncle and grandfather,” Gray Eagle said.

“When I got out, I just wanted to go home. I wasn’t going to admit to anything that would keep me there. It was a shameful thing to have PTSD or anything wrong with you mentally because you were going to be labeled,” Gray Eagle said. “Nowadays, you know, they sign a document: ‘sound and ready to go home.’ Of course they are going to sign the paper! They’re not going to say, ‘I have a problem.’ It all depends on the severity of what you happen to see or feel, but the biggest thing is the label of ‘they’re crazy, they’re nuts, they’re whatever.’ Everybody’s got problems. Some people just handle it better than others,” said Gray Eagle.

Gray Eagle is sentimental and respectful of his family heritage, ancestors, and the older generations. Although he didn’t understand the concept fully as a younger man, where his knee-jerk reaction was to run away from his problems rather than ask for help, he is conscious today of the positive role and major impact older veterans who’ve served in prior wars and conflicts can have on the younger generation of veterans. Gray Eagle believes they understand like no one else can. He agrees the support is mutual; it can work both ways.

“There is a trust between veterans…and older generations. I think it is important when a veteran who has been there can talk to a younger veteran, because there is going to be an automatic piece of trust as compared to talking to a young psychiatrist that just got out of school who has a certain guideline to follow in a twelve-week program. There is no trust in somebody they think has read a book or learned from a book and has no idea what they’ve been through. They can’t ever let the veteran go outside of the guidelines,” Gray Eagle said.

“The first thing you need is a support system. If you don’t have any family left because you end up driving your family, your spouse, your kids even…you drive them away…there’s another veteran there to help you, to listen to you. You are not alone in this world,” said Gray Eagle. “I think the greatest tool out there to help a veteran is another veteran.” Gray Eagle is also lucky enough to credit his niece, who works and travels with him everywhere, as well as his wife, who he gives “props to for hanging in there,” as sources of comfort and support.

“My great uncle was like my dad. He never boasted about ribbons he had. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know that he had all these acknowledgements until right before he died. He spent most of his time alone, drunk or trying to kill himself,” Gray Eagle said. “He never reached out to [the] Veteran’s Administration or [a] hospital…He didn’t know how to. It was a big taboo to label yourself…that you’ve got a problem mentally or that your heart is broken, or your soul is hurting so bad that you find it hard to get up every morning to carry on.”

“And having so many awards at a time where Indians or any minority would not have gotten any type of recognition, it just amazes me what he actually went through, what he had to live with his whole life. I know why he was alone, why he wouldn’t talk, and why the only time he showed any affection was when he was drunk. It’s so sad. He was an amazing man that I looked up to.”

“My grandfather, my uncles…coming back from Vietnam…they were messed up. I totally understand, as a veteran myself, who they were and why they were the way they were. I’ve seen so many die young because they never asked for help. That’s why we are averaging twenty-two suicides a day of veterans. That’s a lot. That’s twenty-two too many,” said Gray Eagle.

Gray Eagle received a very special gift as a child that has served him well as an adult survivor of military trauma; which included severe beatings, racial hostility, and witnessing the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the death and disabling wounding of two friends from Texas who just so happened to be brothers.“I wasn’t qualified to be there,” he said.

“I was so far down…and it was a gift given to me when I was five years old, a flute that I learned to play, that saved me. During my darkest times as a kid, I always had a place where I’d go and play it and I’d release all of this negativity…get it out. The flute has saved my life, all the way through! My art is my best survival tool. I have that and, sometimes, the company of another veteran,” said Gray Eagle. “Veterans that get into the arts at the VA, in music or pottery, they seem to do far better than anybody else. So, that’s my healing. I pretty much had to manage my own way out of ego, pride, whatever, to find my own ways of healing to survive,” said Gray Eagle. “I do have something to offer to the world, and it’s a peaceful art, a solution to all these bad feelings that I’ve held deep inside…the hurt and the heartbreak.”

Gray Eagle’s music and healing catharsis has incredibly far-reaching effects, as he is constantly sharing what he has learned with others in every part of the world.  He tells a wonderful story about making a special, lower-C-register flute for a World War II veteran from Topeka, Kansas. Although the elderly veteran is confined to a wheelchair, Gray Eagle is fascinated with how he continues to use this form of musical art to stay overjoyed and alive.

In one of the most meaningful and emotional experiences of Gray Eagle’s life, he describes how he once met two individuals at a National Veterans Creative Arts festival in Wisconsin, both on a USO tour, who helped him fulfill a life-long dream.

“I told them: ‘I would like to send some flutes to Iraq…Afghanistan…to the soldiers over there.’ Well, being on the USO tour, they told me they could make that happen. I had made two-thousand flutes. I do Sundance and ceremonies like that, and I had one of those Sundance priests smoke them off, bless them, whatever you want to say. So, they went to Afghanistan and they found these soldiers! They took the time to give these individual flutes to these soldiers…and some of the emails I got back were just awesome! It was a blessing…to be able to pass something on that was given to me and send them overseas to a combat zone, where maybe some of these guys could find some peace, too, in the middle of all the chaos.”

It was great, he says, “for two people to come into my life like that and allow me to fulfill something I had always wanted to do for someone else, and to do it and take the time to find the American Indian soldiers that were stationed there. I told them I didn’t care who got one because, culturally, they belong to everybody in the world. Everybody in history played a flute for some reason or other, so I just wanted it to be a gift… if they found someone to give them to,” Gray Eagle said.

Gray Eagle credits amazing, miraculous moments like these; working with children at camps and schools; teaching suicide prevention classes; being present for his daughter, who also suffers from military-related trauma; and being accessible to those veterans in need at the VA and beyond, with helping him wake-up every morning and continue the long and winding journey towards health and healing.

“When I get a piece of wood…and feel the life that used to be in that piece of wood…it’s like giving life to create sound. It’s like our second heart. We have a heart that pumps our blood, but then we have the heart that our soul rests in, that you can reach for deep inside…and feel like you’ve done something,” Gray Eagle said.

“We all have many resources, but we have to find the one that finds us. Because once you get into that dark place or that hole, it’s so hard to dig out. Art is about the fastest way I know of to get out. If I can be a part of that…volunteering or visiting another veteran…and share a piece of my art…that’s awesome. I’m glad that I was invited to the MEA symposium to be able to give a little piece of hope. Maybe someone will pick up what I do, pick up the flute. I love to play music. I love to do it. It’s the one thing that has saved my life over and over again, but it’s not just the art itself. It’s what happens when you’re doing the art that’s the medicine. When I put my soul into my art, it puts me in a place that’s peaceful.”

“To allow something positive to happen, people can’t do it alone. No matter how strong you think you are, you know, we were put on this earth to be there for each other…to help one another.  It doesn’t happen with one person. We have to respect everything and everyone around us. If you can help somebody, by all means, it’s your duty as a human being,” Gray Eagle said.

Additional background information on Albert Gray Eagle can be found at Registration and general information about Military Experience & the Arts’ National Symposium can be found on its homepage. Registration costs $20. Active duty service members and spouses with military I.D. cards can register free-of-charge.